A Toast to the All-Conquering Grape

Fist cultivated 8,000 years ago in Europe, the luscious fruit is finally putting down roots in Thailand.

Words: Chusri Ngamprasert
Photo: Kay Choomongkol

The juicy, plump globes of flesh we know as grapes have been around for thousands of years, ever since Stone Age tribes started cultivating them in the Middle East.

When Phoenician and Greek traders began loading their boats with the sweet fruit, Mediterranean folk found it so delicious they began creating myths and even deities in its honour. The cultivation of purple grapes was recorded in Egyptian hieroglyphics, while Greeks and Romans found a way to turn this tasty fruit into wine. The earliest evidence of grape wine was found by the Black Sea in Georgia, where prehistoric folk were getting tipsy on the stuff at least 8,000 years ago.

Botanically, grapes are considered a berry. Sweet, juicy and with a delectable aroma when eaten fresh, the fruit (or berry) can also be delicious when roasted, braised or simmered as part of different recipes. Chockful of antioxidants, nutrients, fibre while low in calories, grapes also offer a wealth of health benefits and can help ward off heart attacks, strokes, diabetes, cancer and obesity.

The cultivated berries come in two forms – table grapes and wine grapes. Wine grapes have a thicker skin, range from deep red to light green in colour and can be high in tannins. They are also smaller and much sweeter, which makes it easier to ferment their juice into alcohol.

Thais began growing grapes and making wine only recently in the early 1990s, but the country now produces over one million bottles a year – mainly from vineyards around Khao Yai national park, 120 kilometres north of Bangkok.

Popular grape varieties in Thailand are White Malaga, Red Cardinal and Beauty Seedless. The White Malaga is green, seeded, large and crisp with a sweet flavour and low acidity. The Red Cardinal, meanwhile, is red-skinned, seedless, plump, with a firm, crisp bite and a Muscat-like flavour. This one is widely used for wine production in Thailand and also for making raisins.

The bluish-black Beauty Seedless has a spicy taste and firm, tender flesh – making it an ideal table grape.

The acidity of grapes can balance sweet and savoury flavours in dishes, while their green, purple or even pinkish hues and delightful, crisp taste can add a splash of colour and elegance to your table.

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